The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has ordered the formation of a 10-member-committee to frame and suggest a regulatory framework for online media/news portals including digital broadcasting and entertainment / infotainment sites and news / media aggregators.

The composition of the Committee is to be:

  1. Secretary I&B – Convenor
  2. Secretary, MeitY
  3. Secretary, MHA
  4. Secretary, Department of Legal Affairs
  5. Secretary, DIPP
  6. CEO, MyGov
  7. Representative of PCI
  8. Representative of NBA
  9. Representative of IBF
  10. And any other department/organization deemed fit by the Convenor

The Terms of Reference of the Committee are to be:

  1. To delienate the sphere of online information dissemination which needs to be brought under regulation, on the lines applicable to print and electronic media.
  2. To recommend appropriate policy formulation for online media / news portals and online content platforms including digital broadcasting which encompasses entertainment / infotainment and news/media aggregators keeping in mind the extant FDI norms, Programme & Advertising Code for TV Channels, norms circulated by PCI, code of ethics framed by NBA and norms prescribed by IBF, and
  3. To analyze the international scenario on such existing regulatory mechanismswith a view to incorporate the best practices.

The reasons for the government finding this necessary, as per the circular are that content on online media websites are not regulated by any norms or guidelines unlike print or television media.

This follows on the heels of the widely condemned and abruptly withdrawn announcement of a committee to regulate the Accreditation of Journalists and after the government has amended the guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists to regulate Fake News. While the Press Release was withdrawn, the status of the Committee formed appears to be less clear.

MediaNama’s take

The government appears committed to finding ways to curb freedom of speech and control the dissemination of information among the masses.

The IT Act already regulates content on the internet and holds intermediaries liable for malicious content, so this attempt must be interpreted as one specifically aimed at controlling the dissemination of news and informational content by a government known to use fake news to achieve its own ends and in a year preceding the national elections.